When I watched about five hours of Hurtigruten – minutt for minutt back when it aired in 2011 it was an almost transcendental experience. It was oddly mesmerizing to witness storms build up and dissipate in real time or observe waves crashing against brown and gray rock for minutes on end. Later on, watching those unaware of being watched quickly became a highlight for me that diminished in pleasure as the program’s growing popularity caused those being filmed to replace unwitting, passive participation to active interaction. It wasn’t the loss of this near-scopophilic pleasure that bothered me– I can get that fromwatching CCTV footage of tourists in Times Square– it was the reintroduction of time that interrupted the show’s existence as a leisure activity.
As Michael Curtin highlights in “Thinking Globally: From Media Imperialism to Media Capital” by quoting Carl Marx, time plays an important part in maximizing economic gain in capitalist societies. The regulation of space in such a way that it can be segregated and measured magnifies the productivity of citizens and ensures the reproduction of certain social values in the most efficient manner possible. In many ways traditional television programming is organized around this latent capitalist philosophy– the space of a day is organized into programming blocks, blocks are broken into individual shows, each show is composed of segments, and so on. Editing, then, is an important tool for delivering content to viewers in the most efficient way possible that facilitates the incorporation of extraneous information (like ads) into a whole. The resulting regulation of life into discrete chunks governs the way we live and in many ways primes us for a faster is better mentality (“time is money”) where there is time to be productive and there is time to be idle. Interestingly enough, when some parts of a society are least active, others are most active. For example, advertisers work hard to target primetime audiences spending their leisure time watching television because they compose peak viewership during the day. In that sense even leisure time is spent being productive to the society because advertisements works to inspire the consumption that supports the economy.
I see slow television’s real-time structure as somewhat subversive to the philosophies around which television is composed. By removing editing from the equation and broadcasting each show as a single, uninterrupted chunk there is little to no space available for what Marx claims to be the capitalist regulation of time. Slow television returns programming to the nonproductive space of leisure time where one gains nothing more than an understanding of some random coastline for watching and loses nothing by missing a segment. Not only was watching the program a nonproductive use of time, a large portion of it was spent watching others use their time nonproductively as well. At the program’s inception, it was not uncommon to spend entire minutes observing people fishing, stargazing, or standing around doing absolutely nothing as they had no idea they were being watched, and it was fun to observe this aspect of life that’s infrequent on television and somewhat discouraged by the demands of modern society. But as the program became more popular social media played an active role in regulating its content in a way that brought it closer to traditional television. As more people wanted to see themselves on TV, predicting the boat’s position made it necessary to date and time the places of its arrival long beforehand. Though this information existed freely beforehand, before people cared it did little to nothing to affect what was captured during the journey. Once this information became useful, each port or major location would have dozens or more spectators waving, dancing, or even proposing to one another on camera. At that point the surveillance of nonproductive uses of time was replaced with the shameless self-promotion and “fifteen minutes of fame philosophy” that’s so prevalent in our ADD infested fast food culture of instant gratification.
This played a large role in narrativizing the content for viewers in a way that caused the show do something more than nothing. For example, people waving the Norwegian flag added a political element to the program. Before then it was entirely possible to tune in and not know where you were (from the live stream at least) for an extended period of time. The program quickly became some sort of celebration of Norwegian culture that made it well-known internationally and devastated what it was doing in the first place. So for me, it was the social aspects that brought slow TV closer to traditional programming. Although at this point I probably shouldn’t be surprised, people tend to ruin everything.